We love the poignant words of Dana Ullom-Vucelich, “At the very core of our humanity is our care for one another. Heartfelt appreciation provides sustenance for another day, especially in turbulent times.” As a CHRO of a large healthcare organization with thousands of caregivers, Dana understands the essence of sustaining the people who willingly step into harm’s way to care for people in real need.
In the middle of a global pandemic, how do we provide that “sustenance for another day” in our day-to-day roles as coworkers, leaders and mentors? What, if anything, should be different about how we lead during these unprecedented times of disruption in the lives of our coworkers? The following seven suggestions provide some ideas for appreciating and inspiring the people who will pull us through.
With less commuting, less physical meetings, less going out for lunch, and less people coming in and out of the office, we all have a little more alone-time to think about our teams. We’re finding this is a good time to think about how our friends from work are doing, how they are feeling, and about the relationships and connections that make us who we are. A little virus-induced distance is making us all more appreciative of our teams—for their resilience and commitment to help us get through this no matter what comes our way. We are more aware than ever of how much we rely upon each other. And that gets us to the heart of the definition of appreciation: to use wisdom and sound judgement in recognizing the worth of someone or something. The best forms of recognition are expressed from a spirit of heartfelt appreciation.
Take a minute to think about members of your team who provide support, who work behind the scenes to get things done, especially those who are consistently, and thankfully, the “low drama” types. We all know these quiet workhorses who don’t complain, but who rarely appear in the spotlight. These teammates often get overlooked because they care more about their work than their ego. They make things happen without fanfare or expectation of reward. You know who they are. Have you personally thanked them for what they are doing, or for something they have quietly delivered just recently? Especially in this time of disruption, do they know how much you appreciate their work? Now is a good time to do something about that.
Since the vast majority of our communications are discerned through non-verbal cues, people are remarkably astute at assessing whether our recognition is sincere or phony. The same holds true in the physical and virtual world of recognition. Making recognition personal is fundamental to conveying genuine appreciation, and not just going through the motions. Being personal means being authentic, knowing the details, and being specific. Here is a simple framework to help you structure your thoughts so that what you say will be authentic and personal whether you are recognizing someone’s great work face-to-face or via Zoom. It’s easy to remember with an acronym called SAIL. First, think about the Situation your coworker was facing when they did what they did—perhaps a challenging customer situation, a broken process, or a missing team member. Next think about the Action they took. What specifically did your team member do that turned things around—such as staying with a patient, rescheduling a stuck traveler, filling in for a sick employee? Next think about the Impact this team member had, the difference they made. Was it saving a customer relationship? Developing a faster process? Averting a crisis? Finally, Link what they did back to the purpose of your team or organization. In other words, how did their actions contribute to what you stand for. When your expression of appreciation is specific and personal, it will be meaningful, whether it’s delivered through email, on a phone call, via video conference, chat, or any other means in our increasingly isolated work environment. Don’t just recognize. Really appreciate.
With so many more of us working from home, our work lives have merged with our home lives. Our home offices are now our work offices, along with our kitchens and living rooms. On our video calls we are seeing into the homes and lives of those we work with. We see partners, and children, and cats and dogs, coming in and out of our meetings. We see a much richer, more multi-faceted view of our colleagues, in ways that deepen our relationships and our connections. Does it not then make sense to honor and appreciate those we work with by inviting their family members to join in on recognition experiences too? Family members are making sacrifices, juggling new challenges, and trying to give your team member the physical and mental space to do their work. Let’s return the favor.
This pandemic has brought significant changes to the way we work. Increasing VPN connections, using more video conferencing, becoming even more reliant on collaborative tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. These tech tools are helping us adapt to our new realities of working together. The same is true for recognition tools. Modern mobile recognition apps are more essential now than ever. They help us send a quick ecard, give digital points, or even nominate a hero coworker for a President’s award. Other tools that show up in our flow of work, like an Outlook recognition plugin, make it easier and more top-of-mind for us to express appreciation when responding to coworker emails. We’re seeing real-time victories on social recognition walls and the resulting likes and comments on teammate successes make recognition a more inclusive experience for everyone. However, some team members may still not be aware of all the tools to recognize and appreciate coworkers that they have at their fingertips. Let’s make sure employees know where these tools are and how to use them. And let’s model what that looks like by regularly using them ourselves.
Most leaders, when they think of recognition or appreciation, think it’s all about receiving. It begs the age-old question, is it better to give than receive? In recent research by the O.C. Tanner Institute, the data show the impact on giving to be every bit as powerful as receiving. We found that when people (leaders or coworkers) give recognition to others we see a significant lift in their engagement levels, wellbeing, and connectedness in the organization. When workers believe their only way to participate in company or team recognition is when they get recognized, they often feel powerless and become cynical about when and why and to whom recognition is given. Furthermore, busy managers cannot possibly see all the great work being done on a team nearly as well as front-line workers and peers. Democratize the giving of recognition to everyone by giving your teams the power to appreciate the efforts and outcomes that make your organization thrive.
In sharp economic downturns, employees need the sustenance of positive daily communications and experiences more than ever. Reports of declining revenues, lost customers, cost-cutting measures, impending layoffs, and in the current crisis, increasing death tolls, are virtually inescapable. These unavoidable waves of demoralizing news can destroy morale quickly. Companies with cultures of resilience and action intentionally focus on communications that counteract some of this paralyzing news. They work hard to stabilize employee hearts and minds with hope and confidence. They don’t sugar-coat or minimize the realities they are facing. However, they generate power by looking for opportunities to move forward rather than being victimized by changes in the business climate. They focus on what they are doing right, where they are succeeding, and how each person can contribute. They speak not just about their survival, but about their success. They focus on metrics they can move, and on the teams that are moving them. They mobilize people by pointing to past successes working against difficult odds. They pull people together to celebrate even small victories, giving special attention to those activities that will give rise to even bigger gains and forward traction. Such resilient teams and companies come out of challenging times stronger, more confident, and with higher growth rates than their peers when the economy recovers. Celebrating individual and team success gives proof of what’s possible, and inspiration to those looking to make a difference in challenging times.
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